Robertson Scales Back Development

Mon April 07, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson is scaling back a plan to build upscale shops, offices and homes on 500 acres along the border of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.

In 2006, consultants for Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network unveiled plans for a complex they said would rival suburban Richmond’s Short Pump Town Center, Norfolk’s MacArthur Center and Virginia Beach’s Town Center.

The plan hinged on an Interstate 64 interchange that the federal government has repeatedly rejected, so CBN is developing portions of the project on a smaller scale.

“Plan B is what you’re seeing now,” said Lowell Morse, CBN’s development consultant.

CBN is getting ready to build an office tower on the land, and the Virginia Beach Planning Commission has recommended approval of 150 homes on 46 acres (18.6 ha) of the parcel near Robertson’s Regent University.

The Virginia Beach City Council is scheduled to vote on the residential project on April 22.

CBN is still pursuing the interchange but making plans to develop the property without it, Morse said.

Without the interchange, CBN won’t be able to lure big-name, national tenants for retail space in the new Villages of Blenheim, Morse said. Restaurants, dry cleaners and “good local tenants” will instead occupy the space, he said.

CBN initially had asked Chesapeake and Virginia Beach officials to create an authority that would issue bonds to finance the road projects and use the increases in property and other taxes from the development to pay off the loans.

Virginia Beach officials have told Morse in recent months that they do not want the city to incur additional debt for this project and encouraged CBN to study a special tax district without the city’s credit line.

Virginia Beach officials had encouraged CBN consultants to postpone asking for the rezoning on the 150-home proposal, called Fenwyck Forest, until a new master plan and transportation study were complete.

“We were getting this, and we were getting submissions to develop an office building,” said Stephen White, a Virginia Beach city planner. “You could end up with chaos and a traffic system that wouldn’t work.”

Morse said CBN is seeking city approval now because it has an agreement with its partner, WeldenField of Virginia LLC, and wants to have the homes ready when the housing market improves.

White said the planning department decided to recommend approval of the 150-home portion of the Villages of Blenheim because it was less than what CBN could currently develop on the site.

“We know they’re going to have to come back and rezone more of the property,” White said. “That’s where staff and the City Council can have some comfort and make sure it’s not going to be piece-mealed.”